BEREA: Wide receiver and special-teams ace Josh Cribbs revealed the Browns are preparing to face not one, but two opponents Thursday night — the Baltimore Ravens and a crew of replacement officials.
“A lot of times we have to scream and yell the rules to the refs to reinforce the rules, help them with some calls,” Cribbs said Tuesday. “It’s unfortunate for them, and I feel sorry for them. It’s something we have to deal with. Like I said, like Coach said, we do have to beat that team and the refs as well.”
Cribbs’ comments were a reaction to the controversial ruling made during the final play of the Seattle Seahawks’ 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.
The Seahawks were granted a touchdown as time expired after wide receiver Golden Tate pushed a Packers defender out of the way, jumped and got a hand on the ball as Packers safety M.D. Jennings seemingly intercepted a Hail Mary pass and clutched it against his chest. The NFL said the touchdown shouldn’t have counted because Tate committed offensive pass interference, but the penalty was not reviewable. The NFL also said the replay of the interception was inconclusive, upheld the touchdown and gave the Seahawks the win.
“Everyone sees that it was an interception,” Cribbs said. “They said the tie goes to the receiving team, but it wasn’t a tie. [Jennings] had it all the way.
“I feel like they’re just covering up for the refs. I feel like the NFL is messing up the integrity of the game.”
The regular officials have been locked out by the league since their contract expired in June. The only previous officiating experience most of their replacements have was at the lower levels of college football.
“They’re only human, but it just shows you they don’t have the best of the best refs out there,” Cribbs said. “They got the best players, but not the best refs. That’s a problem for me because it means so much to us. We [the players] got our contract dispute done before the  season started. [It] seems like they could have did that on their end as well.”
Cribbs wasn’t the only Browns player who spoke out.
“It’s a dark shadow over the NFL,” Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas said. “It’s a shame. People should be talking about the players but instead everyone is talking about the officials.
“The sad part is they don’t know the rules. This is affecting peoples’ livelihoods. The Packers could miss the playoffs by a game. Coaches and players could lose their jobs because of bad calls.”
Will he play?
Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi hasn’t practiced since injuring his left hamstring Sunday while running a route during the third quarter of the Browns’ 24-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Does Massaquoi think he’ll play Thursday night?
“Right now, I don’t know,” Massaquoi said. “We’ll see. That’s not a question I can really answer. We’ll see. If I can, I will. If I can’t, then we’ll just wait to see when it’s ready to respond right.”
Massaquoi said running has not been a part of his rehabilitation, a sign he might not be ready in time to face the Ravens. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress said he’s “not anticipating” being without Massaquoi, but quarterback Brandon Weeden sounded as if he’s not counting on Massaquoi being in the lineup.
“He’s a guy I have a lot of confidence in,” Weeden said. “I’m hoping he comes back sooner rather than later. He’s gonna be missed.”
If Massaquoi doesn’t play, wide receiver Jordan Norwood is expected to be active for the first time this season. Cribbs could play more, too, though Childress downplayed the idea of his role greatly expanding on offense.
“We’re going to water drop him in there,” Childress said of Cribbs. “But to tell you that he would have a leading role, I would be misleading anybody to say that.”
The Browns’ secondary has undergone lineup changes in each of the past two weeks. Shurmur said the coaches are looking for the right combination of players and “we haven’t found it yet,” but cornerback Dimitri Patterson doesn’t expect the personnel to be different than it was Sunday.
With the Browns using their nickel defense for most of the game, Patterson, Buster Skrine and Sheldon Brown received extensive playing time at corner. Usama Young replaced Eric Hagg as the starting free safety and rotated with undrafted rookie Tashaun Gipson. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said Young, Gipson and strong safety T.J. Ward played well.
“I think last week the way we started off the game, you’ll see probably the same thing,” Patterson said. “That’s the thing, trying to figure out where certain guys fit. You don’t really know until you see them in live, real-game action. The first few weeks, that spoke for itself. So, yeah, there’s gonna be some more consistency I think coming into this game, much-needed consistency.”
Continuity in the lineup is vital to communication, Patterson said, and communication is the key to defending a no-huddle offense like the one the Ravens use.
“As long as everybody’s on the same page, you can get through the down and you can be effective still,” Patterson said. “You have to understand why people are running no huddle — to get you scrambling, not communicating. That’s why teams run no huddle, to get you off balance. So as long as you can maintain that communication throughout the defense, you’ll be fine.”
Rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson’s equipment bag is packed for the trip to Baltimore, but he said hasn’t been told whether he’ll make his regular-season debut Thursday. Johnson suffered an oblique injury Aug. 30 in the preseason finale and returned to practice Friday. … Special-teams ace Ray Ventrone will serve as the Browns’ fourth captain Thursday. … Incoming owner Jimmy Haslam III watched practice. … Tight end Alex Smith (concussion) did not practice. … Cribbs (knee), Brown (chest), Ventrone (hand) and Johnson were limited.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.